Billions of dollars at stake for S.C. in 2020 census

Updated: Apr. 1, 2020 at 11:38 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Close to $13 million is on the line for South Carolinians based on participation in the 2020 census.

Population counts determine how much federal funds that states and municipalities receive for the next 10 years.

Schools, hospitals, emergency relief funds, and other public work programs will all be impacted.

The U.S. Census reported 4.6 million people lived in South Carolina in 2010. The population translated into $12.6 million for 55 federal spending programs, according to research by George Washington University.

However, 18,300 people weren’t counted, according to estimates by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The same report estimated in 2010 each person brought in close to $3,000 for the state. This estimate means a lack of participation cost South Carolina around $54 million.

Union, Hampton, Jasper, Marlboro and Abbeville counties reported participation rates below 70%.

Pockets within counties across the state have areas defined as ‘hard-to-count’ areas. Around 8% of South Carolina’s population lives in a ‘hard-to-count’ community. . Portions of southern Horry County and norther Dillon County fall in these zones, which means a majority of residents never mailed back a response in 2010.

Lindy Studds is one of numerous individuals employed by the U.S. Census who is working across South Carolina with local leaders and organizations to stress the importance of the census in different ways to residents.

In addition to areas, certain demographics like children, elderly, veterans and immigrants are historically labelled as ‘hard-to-count.’

Studds said around 1 million children across the country went uncounted during the last census.

“So that’s a decade worth of resources and classrooms and teachers and activities and equipment and all these things that our community may or may not get enough of if we don’t count the right number of children. So there’s a lot on the line,” Studds said.

She also explained misinformation can have an impact on people choosing not to fill out the census.

“There’s a lot of misinformation, a lot of misunderstanding and just lack of knowledge of what it is and that creates fear,” Studds said.

Studds explains that no data collected from the Census Bureau can be used by any other agency. Census workers face a felony if they release any information.

“If you haven’t paid your taxes in five years, the IRS is not going to find you because you participated in the census. If you haven’t paid child support, local law enforcement is not going to find you because you filled out your census. If you are a foreign born resident and you’re undocumented, ICE, Homeland Security, whomever, they’re not going to find you because we just don’t share that data with anyone until after that 72-year mark," Studds said.

Federal laws protect the data the U.S. Census Bureau protects for 72 years and employees can be charged with a felony if they disclose any information.

Population counts mean money

“How much your state gets and how much trickles down to your individual community,” Studds said.

The state’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office assisted around 10 counties in identifying more addresses to add. In October, the state reported adding more than 15,000 new addresses.

South Carolina ranks in the top half of the country for population growth compared to other states.

Many South Carolina counties have a lot to gain from the census, but not all do.

The October report from the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office found population grew in 24 counties. Horry County is estimated to have gained nearly 64,000 people.

According to the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, Horry County’s population growth could translate into around $1.8 million added to its local government fund.

The increase in funding nearly $1 million more than the next highest county, York.

Other places like Williamsburg and Orangeburg counties lost thousands of residents and are two of 22 counties with a reported decrease in population since the last census.

The state estimated only 53 municipalities will gain local government funding while 218 will lose funding.

Florence and Darlington counties are projected to be a few that experience significant loss in funding,

Florence County may see a decrease of nearly $500,00, while Darlington County is projected to lose around $300,000, according to the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.

Leaders in Florence County meet every two weeks to address how they are going to get every resident to respond. The group is reaching out to nursing homes, churches and schools to get the word out.

“I represent a rural town, it’s only 6,700 people from the last census. And I know and the others at the table know that the numbers really tell the story,” said Lake City Mayor Lovith Anderson.

Anderson Lake City officials are thinking about how the new census estimates may factor into future budgets.

“We’re currently working on our upcoming budget, so that’s a part of it. We need to make sure that we get a good count, so that we can understand as we prepped for our budget where it’s going be; maybe a plus or minus or even remain the same,” Anderson said.

The Horry County School District is working in Horry County to get residents to fill out the census.

'Out of our almost three quarters of a billion dollar budget, 7% of that is federal funds," HCS spokesperson Lisa Bourcier said. “So most of that goes towards our food services department through our feeding programs and our summer feeding programs and also through our Title One schools, which are low-income areas.”

Political Influence

Population numbers also determine how much representation areas get in Congress. In 2010, South Carolina’s population grew enough to add an extra seat in the House of Representatives.

“I’m not quite sure if we will have the population increased enough to add to that, but that was very important at that time. I mean it was a big boom as far as building and capturing that data too,” Bourcier said who worked with the country during the 2010 Census. “We didn’t have the internet, so that was something that was not available in 2010 that’s available now.”

That seat is currently held by Rep. Tom Rice.

“The updated census data is also used for redistricting at the national state and local levels. So that’s very important to some of those folks in our community,” Studds said.

Census information for you

You can participate in the 2020 Census online or by filling out the form mailed to your house.

Here’s the notifications and when you can expect from the U.S. Census:

“If you and or your family members are not counted on the 2020 census, you will not have the opportunity to be counted again until the 2030 census,” Studds said.

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